Victoria city staff want to get rid of an aging concrete railing along the Dallas Road seawall much to the dismay of those who consider the pale blue barrier a thing of beauty.
In a report going before city councillors Thursday, staff recommend replacing the balustrade with steel and wire fencing similar to the railings found on the nearby Ogden Point breakwater.
Staff say the existing railing is more than 60 years old and beyond the end of its useful life. The concrete is flaking, steel reinforcements are corroding and repair costs continue to mount, the report says.
“The wall is not falling down, so in that sense it is safe and it is still functioning,” Philip Bellefontaine, assistant director of transportation, said in an interview.
“But it’s getting to a point where, in order to maintain that level of safety, significant amounts of ongoing maintenance money are going to be required.”
Detailed estimates are still being developed, but the report predicts it will cost more than $1 million to replace the railing with a new steel stanchion and wire cable fence from Dock Street to Lewis Street.
The report says it would be 2.5 times more expensive to make major repairs to the existing railing, which would only delay replacement by 10 to 15 years.
Other options, such as building a replica concrete railing were also deemed more costly, the report says.
Bellefontaine said staff prefer the steel and wire design because it meets modern safety standards and has been used successfully along other waterfront paths at Ogden Point, West Songhees Walkway and the Johnson Street Bridge.
“It is modern, but it also is very practical because it allows people who are visiting or who are walking along Dallas Road to see the ocean — not something everybody can do at the moment because the mass of that wall is preventing people from actually seeing the ocean.”
Not everyone shares the city’s taste in railings, however.
Victoria artist Rose Currie, who has featured the railing in a number of her paintings, said she hopes council will think twice about replacing it.
“Personally, I feel really sad about it,” she said. “It’s a really beautiful landmark. The fact that I do paintings of it fairly often, I hear a lot of feedback from people on how much they love that space.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful structure and I feel like it’s worth saving. The breakwater rail is its own thing. I don’t feel like it would translate well to that space.”
Currie began painting the railing because she lives nearby.
“In the winter, the light especially is beautiful, so I would just go there at sunsets and watch the light change and then I noticed the rail would make colour shifts with the different light,” she said.
Now, she gets commissioned to paint the scene and figures she’s done more than 10 paintings of the railing since 2013. “I have a commission right now actually to do it,” she said.
“A lot of times it’s people that are moving out of Victoria and they want to take a piece of Victoria with them and that’s the actual spot that they want to remember when they’re gone, because it feels very Victoria to them.”
The city planned to consider replacing the railing in 2020 in conjunction with installation of new sewer works, bike paths and sidewalks as part of the Capital Regional District’s Wastewater Treatment Project.
The wastewater project, however, is ahead of schedule, so staff want to look at whether it makes sense to accelerate the railing replacement to cut costs and minimize construction disruptions.
The staff report recommends council endorse the railing replacement and approve $150,000 for detailed planning and design work.
Bellefontaine said staff will report back to council, possibly as early as September. If planning confirms that it makes sense to speed up the railing replacement, construction could begin this fall, he said.